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Who won 'America's Got Talent' season 16?

Twelve-year-old Grace Vanderwaal won the 11th edition of NBC's 'America's Got Talent" and the $1 million with her sweet, emotive voice and an amazing knack for writing original songs that connected with the audience. She naturally broke into tears when her name was called.

"You are a shooting star," said judge Howie Mandel, who gave her the Golden Buzzer pass to the live shows and rushed on stage to give her a hug."You are so special!"

She is the first vocalist to win the show in five years.

Interestingly, singers won "America's Got Talent" the first six seasons.  Then coincidentally or not, during the four years when Howard Stern was a judge, non-vocalists took the crown. The victors respectively seasons seven to 10 were a dog act, a performance artist, a stand-up comic and a comic ventriloquist.

But with Simon Cowell - best known for finding vocal talent on "American Idol" - taking over for Stern, he appeared hell-bent to have a singer take the $1 million. This is new school Cowell and we're not just talking about the gray flecks in his beard. He was as positive and sweet on finale performance night as Paula Abdul used to be on "Idol." He even liked "Tape Face," a mime act who tapes his mouth and used horses on a stick, Mel B, a toilet seat, a plunger and toilet paper.

But one true throwback from the "Idol" days: he wore a white shirt with way too many buttons unbuttoned.

You can't blame him for being happy. Ratings are at a five-year high and he can certainly claim some credit for that. Plus, he's executive producer and creator. (That wasn't the case with "Idol.")

After the singer’s win, Cowell exuded backstage:

“That moment at the end, it reminded me of the Kelly Clarkson moment,” Cowell, 56, told reporters after the show. “You know, when they said, ‘And the winner is Kelly Clarkson.’ I kind of had that same feeling again when they read her name out, and I saw her reaction and she was literally in pieces. I like that though.”

Host Nick Cannon, wearing a ridiculous swami hat, said less than one percent separated the top three, saying it's the tightest race in the show's history.

The finalists this year featured five excellent singing acts. Two truly stood out: the intense but likable Brian Justin Crum and the preternaturally talented Grace Vanderwaal, who songwriting overshadows most 25 year old. Crum came in fourth, a bit of a surprise. Mel B said she was "shocked."

Vanderwaal, based on polls posted by MJsbigblog, was the favorite to win it all. Not surprisingly, she did.

The best of the non-singers? Arguably the smooth and professional Clairvoyants, who took a Cowell American Express card and used it as a prop in their act. They have an act that could work right away in Vegas and after coming in second, they will likely get a show.

The audience absolutely loved Jon Dorenbos, the classy NFL player who blends inspiration with magic. He finished third. "You're a winner buddy!" Howie Mandel told him.

Fifth place? Rat Pack crooner Sal Valentinetti, who got through the audition round of "Idol" last year but didn't make it through Hollywood.

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Wednesday, September 14, 2016


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.